"We will never hesitate to do what's needed to protect the people of Ontario."
It's become a common refrain of Premier Doug Ford, even as experts call on his government to do more to stem the ongoing flow of COVID-19 cases.
But he also teased an announcement coming on Wednesday for stricter public health measures, likely focused on high-transmission areas — though he didn't get into specifics, such as whether Ontarians can expect another stay-at-home order.
Ford said his government made a "massive move" last week to institute a four-week, provincewide shutdown, which doesn't include a stay-at-home order and allows non-essential stores to remain open with capacity limits.
He said he hates to shut down businesses, "but we're going to have further restrictions moving forward, very, very quickly."
What the government refers to as a shutdown also doesn't include some items health experts have been calling for, for months such as a stay-at-home order and a provincial paid sick leave program for essential workers.
Local medical officers in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa, as well as the Ontario Medical Association, are among those calling for a new stay-at-home order. Sources told Star columnist Bruce Arthur that the government rejected advice from its public health measures table for a stay-at-home order as well.
Ford didn't say whether there will be a new stay-at-home order announced on Wednesday, saying, "We'll discuss that tomorrow."
But he did single out York Region, Peel Region and Toronto, which he said make up 60 per cent of current COVID-19 cases.
"So when you have an inferno going on somewhere, you have to turn the hoses there," he said. "You have to continue doing the whole province, but we're really focusing on the hot areas."
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said he is getting recommendations from the public health measures table soon, which he will take to the health minister and discuss potential "further restrictions."
The premier promised more mobile vaccination units in higher-risk workplaces and neighbourhoods.
"We're gonna target the big employers in hot areas. We're gonna make sure we target neighbourhoods in hot areas," he said.
Ford also continued his trend of blaming Ontarians' choices for the increased spread, chastising people for going to malls that his government has kept open.
"You go by Yorkdale [Mall], you couldn't get a parking space. It was absolutely jam-packed. And I truly was hoping that people wouldn't be going in there to the volume that we saw. Folks, you know, this variant is taking off. And please, when you can, follow all protocols. Make sure, when you can, stay at home," he said.
"A lot of people were going into the malls and doing their little wander-around, and coming out with no bags. So that tells me they're just out for an evening or a daily jaunt. You can't do that."
Williams joined in, noting that while some people have gathered outdoors "judiciously" as of late, others were reckless.
“Even some of the outdoor activities, it seemed unusual to me that people would go a long distance to go to a large park and congregate with 500 to 1,000 other people. That was not our intent to say, ‘Do your activities outdoors.’ We wanted to do your activities outdoors as a family or as an individual in groups smaller than five, not in large crowds and congregate settings,” he said.
It's an approach not recommended by behavioural scientists. The most effective way to influence the public's behaviour is "to create circumstances that are consistent with the behaviour that you want," said Laura Desveaux, co-chair of the COVID-19 Science Table's Behavioural Science Working Group.
For example, if you want people to only drive one way down a street, you make it a one-way street.
"I do think there are safe ways for people to do a little bit more than they’re doing now," she said. "But ... the circumstances in which that can happen safely need to leave no room for interpretation."
Most people hearing Ford chastise people going for a "wander-around" won't see themselves in that statement, even if they went to the mall and left empty-handed, Desveaux said.
"They viewed it as, 'Well I actually went to check for something and the store I went to didn't have it.' Then it's not an effective way to help the population understand that they should be doing something differently," she said.
Desveaux said she hopes to see the government leave no room for interpretation in what people are allowed to do — such as the early-pandemic strategy of painting circles in public parks, so people don't have to guess how far to physically distance from each other.
"As a behavioural scientist, I hold my breath every day and wait for the announcement that focuses on, 'Here's what we can all do safely,' so that people aren't looking for substitute behaviours that might be riskier. They understand what they can do that allows them to get outside, see other people safely," she said.